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On not being negative

Posted by Richard Monday, December 06, 2004

Two separate pieces, one in the Observer yesterday, and one in the Independent today, signal that the temperature on the EU constitution is set to rise.

The piece yesterday was by the great sage of the Left, Will Hutton, the knower of all things, who dissects Gordon Brown's thinking on the EU, under the title "Brown is on the ball yet again".

Says Hutton, on the EU constitution, Brown, and the government will be bringing forward a national plan as part of a co-ordinated European effort which Britain will lead during its presidency of the EU next year. Hutton opines that this is "intriguing both economically and politically":

Instead of a rarefied debate about whether the pound has met the tests to join the euro, this will be a debate about lifting R&D, science spending and business investment, raising employment, reducing regional inequality, lowering poverty, improving skill levels and curbing environmental damage...
He will set targets on social and economic progress, to be achieved through greater European co-operation and Eurosceptics will

...get challenged over why they would not want to hit these targets and why it is wrong for Britain to lead a European effort to achieve them, obviously to the benefit of both Britain and Europe.
All this and more in the Hutton article give strong clues as to how the government is going to frame the referendum campaign, reinforced by the Independent article which has Jack Straw saying: "We are very comfortable about the referendum on Europe... the arguments are on our side."

The central clue in this long article at first seems at odds with the Hutton view, stating that Straw, "unlike the chancellor..." is "ready to extol the virtues of greater European co-operation."

As we have indicated previously, Brown is no Eurosceptic and the Independent has got it wrong. The piece quoted should read: "like the chancellor...". Straw and Brown are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Once past that little misunderstanding, what emerges is a very strong indication that the "yes" campaign – with full government support – is going to focus on the "feel-good" factors, and it is no accident that issues like "science spending" and "environment" should have featured in Hutton's piece.

In fact, we warned of this on the Blog last July, when Margaret Beckett made her keynote speech to green activists, extolling the virtues of the EU in terms of its benefits to the environment.

It is these very areas, such as the "environment" that "no" campaigners need to tackle head-on for, while the pro-constitution forces believe that such “feel-good” issues are their strong suit, they also have the makings of their downfall.

With debacles like the fridge mountains and fly-tipping (link here and here) to say nothing of the economic disaster of the Kyoto protocol - we can (and must) readily demonstrate that EU influence on environmental issues has been nothing but malign.

Equally, there are other high level issues that "no" campaigners could and should be addressing. With the cut back of the traditional regiments prominent in the news today, we should be making the case that this highly unpopular move has an EU dimension, not least that the Army is being reshaped to conform with the operational requirements of membership of the EU's rapid reaction force.

Then there is the wholly indequate attempts at establishing a common foreign policy, and the failure of attempts to mediate in sensitive areas, not least the crass performance of EU representatives in Iran.

Thus, while some accuse us of negativity (see comments) concerning the "Yes-nos" (aka the self-appointed "Vote No" campaign) we hold to our view that featuring Marta Andreason in a public meeting tonight is missing the point. While her view on corruption in the EU, as expressed in The Times today may be entertaining to the Euro-nerds (like ourselves), they are hardly new and neither do they address the issues on which the "yes" campaigners are setting up.

Nor can one see the utility of Ms Andreason to the "no" campaign when she declares: "I have been called a Eurosceptic, but I am not one. I want to fight for a good EU project." In fact, this is a dangerous line for the "no campaign". The bill of goods that Andreason is selling is one of EU "reform", exactly the line being peddled by those in favour of the constitution.

One gets a sense that too many "no" campaigners are locked in a time warp, rehearsing old, tired issues that appeal to themselves, but will leave the general public cold. Unless we are very careful, the "yessites" will capture the high ground, leaving the "no" campaign floundering. We need to address the "feel good" factors and show how "co-operation" with the EU is a bed of nails.

And to say that is not being negative.